Sunday 25 December 2022

Collage in Japanese

It’s been a week since I started playing with line and Posca pens. A Mitsubishi product, Poscas are like a cross between a Biro and a paintbrush, delivering a heavy, colourful and permanent mark on any surface. I was kindly introduced to Poscas by Sophie Gee, who took one of our Esag classes, she even gifted me several for me to use but I’d already gone to buy some so had a selection of colours to work with. I showed Sophie what I’d done and she was enthusiastic, something very nice to hear. 

Basia, another friend, also liked the paintings and I did two using Japanese sayings given to me by my family in Japan. 

I wanted to use Japanese for several reasons, partly because you can fit more text in the same space with Japanese. What I found as well is that it’s a lot of fun to make the complex Chinese characters that Japanese uses, I find being successful at executing a clip without damaging the unit’s integrity (though as Basia said you can always glue it in place even if you rip it) as much fun as making a good couplet when writing poetry.

It's a matter of skill.

I had by this time come up with a process that starts with identifying the saying to render. Once this is done I can think of what image I want to make to accompany the script, then I draw it on two sheets of pre-folded A4 paper so that just using pencil I can make a model of what I’ll paint with water – even before I’ve wet my brush.

I get a sheet of A5 paper ready and paint in the outline required to make the shape I want, using plain clean water. I then apply colours to the wet patch and repeat the process on all of the remaining sheets.

Now comes the time to wait, as the water has to partially dry before I fill in the body of the image I’ve outlined in negative using bright colours, often including gold. In about five minutes the paper will be ready for the second coat, applied with the same brush to the remaining (empty) spaces, with me making sure to keep some of the white still visible so that the existence of the object isn’t completely obscured.

I then let the sheets dry, soaking off excess water and mopping the table with a paper towel. After the stickiness has gone I weigh the sheets down with heavy books to make them flat, but you have to be careful not to damage the pigmented areas.

Once dry I go through magazines looking for areas of picture that are of the right colour to make script, and I cut all of the elements out before any gluing is done. I lay elements out on my paper sheets then glue them in place. After this process is complete I use Poscas to draw in the outlines of the required shapes.

For the kite work I had to try three times to get the top-right panel correct as initially I didn’t get the seam matching properly. The image continues from frame to frame and the work has to have integrity when all frames are in place, so making the borders agree is important. The object on the top border has to sit right with its continuation on the bottom one.

'At a loose end' (Kite on a broken string)', 2022.

'Birds of a feather' (Being the same summons friends)', 2022.

Having done these two Japanese works I find myself a bit marooned. To add contrast I wrote a poem in a mode I haven’t used since starting to make art in April. 

The theme of the poem is dislocation because I feel as though I am travelling from one place to another. I worked at a desk all my life from the time when I was a child, so writing poetry is closer to my sunrise. Since the 1970s at school, through university in the 1980s, then at work from the 80s to 2012, and afterward writing poetry at a desk, I’ve spent so much time at a desk that it feels awkward to instead sit at the dining table making watercolours.

I started making watercolours in November so it’s only been two months of trying but I’ve arrived at a situation where it seems necessary to look back to check the route of the journey thus far. 
The opposing shore has its own riverbank.

Here’s the thing: I should be going full-steam ahead but rather than start the next work I want to take a break. It’s almost as though I’ve tried to reach a goal and, having reached it, I chuck it all in and look for another goal to pursue.

Is it just me or are humans never happy?

A friend of mine said that this is where an artist differs from an artisan because where the latter makes perfect works without stopping, making them to order for example, the former wants to find something new all the time. This friend is an artist herself and has spent the past 30 years making art. We talk from time to time and exchange emails, it’s useful to stay in touch with peers because this journey is singular and not everyone has the ability to make it.

Some people are satisfied with the rudiments like a house, enough money for three meals a day, some associates to share a drink with once a week, maybe a night out at the movies. A new car every ten years. The occasional ticket to see football, soccer or cricket.

Then there are the outcasts.

Of course it could just be the holiday season with its particular burdens, the chore of trying not to spend time alone, the obligations of friendship, celebrating and the like. It could be that there has been so much water under the bridge that it got washed away without my noticing. I’m crossing the river by feeling the stones with my feet.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Making 'Tick tick boom'

On Sunday I started using Posca pens (made by Mitsubishi a Japanese company) which are sort of like a cross between a Biro and a paintbrush, laying down a thick impasto when used on paper. They allow you to run right over bits of collage, even newsprint, leaving a heavy trace to see.

I’d collected in my phone the phrase “tick tick boom” and when I was watching the news about Nathaniel Train I decided to do a work including his face. As a result of all these ideas I made the watercolour panels and when they dried as usual I applied the collage letters.

Then I stopped.

I finished the letters one evening and decided to leave the Posca marks until the next day. When morning arrived I still hadn’t made up my mind to start, I was a bit worried about making a mistake, but the delay meant I could think about the colour to use for the Posca marks, and I settled on blue and white to point to the police. I emailed a friend talking about my quandary but in the evening I settled in to do the marking anyway even without her feedback. By the time her email arrived I’d finished (see below).

My friend said the best way to deal with this sort of fear is to confront it. “What are you afraid of anyway” If I wasted a sheet of paper, so what? I had written:
Have started a new work, 'Tick tick boom', but I'm a bit scared of the Posca stage. I put down the collage y'day afternoon so now I just have to draw in the figures and other objects but am thinking to try first with a pencil. I've done two of these Posca-ornamented works so far and both turned out OK but this time there's a face and I'm a little bit scared of doing it wrong and making a mistake.
After I read Basia’s email I wrote in response:
The face is in top left panel, though the beard continues in bottom left. I think it turned out ok, but it was supposed to b on a bigger angle and the ear is too large. I sort of like how it looks a bit like something from ‘The Simpsons’.
When I conceptualised the painting I didn’t know it would turn out looking like a character from ‘The Simpsons’, I wonder who it might be, but I had put down the yellow and green obviously (Australia’s sporting colours) to get to this stage of uncertainty. 

I might’ve done a better job if I’d used Pencil first (and rubbed out the residue later) but the cartoonish aspect of the figure would’ve been different perhaps.

For the next work I did the execution differently, taking more time with the drawing BEFORE the painting, and mocking up the figure on two sheets of folded A4 to start with. The process evolves as I progress, coming up with solutions to technical problems as the idea settles in place and clicks.

Monday 19 December 2022

Using better paper and Poscas

I’m a bit at a loss because I didn’t record precisely on what day I started using the better paper, the 320gsm stuff bought at the store in the National Art School, but I went down to the Rocks on Friday to buy more of the same paper from Parker’s.

The new paper changed my life.

In the last blogpost I wrote about my art practice but the images that I put up were all of paintings made on the poor-quality paper that curls when it’s dry. It’s hard to frame because when you flatten it it buckles (“cockles” says Amanda, the framer) and looks bad, so I took a chance with the $2-a-sheet stuff made in India from recycled clothes, which works brilliantly because even though it curls when wet by the time it’s dry it’s flat.

On Saturday I went to see a show with Sophie and while there I showed her the new paintings. She made some comments that made me think I wasn’t adventurous enough. Because of the way she spoke I thought that the paintings were not quite the thing, and she’d given me some Posca pens to use (I’d also bought some a few weeks earlier) so when I got home I used Posca pen on the watercolour-collages to see what effect it would have.

The Poscas made all the difference.

Using the pens, which lay down a thick impasto but in a controlled manner, like a combination of a paintbrush and a Biro, I can outline shapes suggested by the watercolour, and the pens let me glide right over the boundaries of the cut-out letters as well. 

The result is a more convincing image.

'Around Sydney', 2022.

'Double Africa', 2022.

This model of proceeding involves more risk because you might stuff up the drawing and ruin a day’s work in an instant, but doing something risky is sort of the purpose of art, it allows taking risks with less physical danger, so what the heck.

Using better paper and drawing with Poscas have made it more interesting and satisfying to manufacture things. Accidents can be good for us, what the world serves up as a surprise can help us by offering different paths to walk along in our dream-state, what one person thinks coming via language to our skulled brain. 

A bolt of lightning, a shock of new like a new hairdo.

I’m still at a loss but who cares? If I go around wondering/worrying it hardly makes any difference to the world, which carries on being mad without my involvement. All I can do is wait for the courage to take up the pen and start.

Friday 16 December 2022

Making more watercolurs vs Dexter from Accounting's email

I’ve been making more collages, a process started about a month ago, although probably more accurately it started on the last day of October with the collage-watercolour class of Eastern Suburbs Art Group.

I'm coming from, 2022.

Ripe darkness, 2022.

Vera Stanhope, 2022.

Whatever the time distance at play it’s enjoyable to spend hours doing what I was born to do, and I think about my father and the lost years every day. The lost years making money for someone else. The lost years of hard graft sitting at desks doing jobs that took all my concentration but that had nothing to do with me, with my ideas, with my thoughts.

I’m not a big fan of ‘The Matrix’ however.

It’s a funny film franchise, the corniness equalled by how badly it’s developed over time, the first one just silly and the most recent one completely incomprehensible. Yet its durability is testament to the dissatisfaction so many feel at how the world is organised.

My father was a leading player in the Matrix.

I worked in a range of different organisations. I worked in companies, in the public service, and at a university, so I have a wide experience. I’ve also freelanced. Work is deadening. It crushes the Will, that vital essence that makes the world come alive. People complain of cost-of-living pressures but the supply of recreational drugs continues day by day, casinos are used to launder the proceeds of crime, and we all tune into the latest show about one Mexican cartel or another eager to feed our abiding appetite for escape. 

Why escape when you can make art? For my part I’ve got other problems, mostly to do with my creative practice, I’m used to its demands. 

For example paper. I started out using 200 grams-per-square-metre (gsm) watercolour paper but it cockles (a term my framer taught me), in other words once its dry and you flatten it out to put under the mat preparatory to framing, the centre buckles up away from the backing material. Cockling can mar the appearance of the finished object, and I’m very interested in framing so it bothers me.

To try to fix the problem I bought heavier, 300gsm paper but it still didn’t do the job. Then the other day I was up at the National Art School looking at the Grad Show and I popped into the supplies shop on campus. There, I found even heavier paper (320gsm) and when I got home and found some time to do painting I used it instead of the Reeves paper.

It started out not so well as for whatever reason the watercolour washes I use dry faster on the new paper. Because of this I had to throw away some sheets (which cost about $2 each) and start those panels again. Once I’d finished the requisite four panels I went out to a poetry reading and when I came back home later saw that the paintings had dried flat.

One problem solved meant another one arose, viz the problem of what words to use for the composition. Each of the four panels shows part of the continent of Africa, in different colours, and I normally use either 10 or 12 letters to make the collage, picking the paper out of magazines. In the current case it’s either “Rain in Africa” or “Double Africa” what do you think? The map is bright and uses a range of colours, for example blue and green and orange. I think “Rain in Africa” is good because it’s got the pop culture reference to the Toto song, but “Double Africa” has the idea of multiples, either in the sense embodied in the multicoloured South African flag or else in the sense that all people came out of Africa so that continent was effectively doubled.

It's a small problem but it’s my problem. Sure beats worrying about what Dexter from Accounting is going to do, how his email might impact my boss’s boss, and how that decision might filter down to my cubicle. Humbug!

Thursday 1 December 2022

TV review: 'Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story' (2022), Netflix

It’s not often that I watch anything on Netflix but a friend recommended ‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ to me so I made an exception and logged onto the OTT service to catch the drama.

It turned out to be revelatory, and I’m not entirely sure if this is because I normally spend time with reruns like ‘Poirot’ and ‘Midsomer Murders’. ‘Monster’ is really excellent and takes the viewer on a journey that has some surprising twists and turns but more importantly has meaning. This is not just an edge-of-seater, it raises really interesting issues. 

And it’s not just about one man. What is actually at stake in the show is contemporary American society (though serial killers also exist in other countries, as we know) and its unwieldy values, indeed at times you are drawn gently to reflect on larger things including history itself, and the Western legacy.

Running to ten episodes, ‘Monster’ uses a range of characters to make its points, though Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters) stands or sits (like a spider) at the centre of the web. No, that’s not right. Peters creates a compelling villain and the writers and director have given the main character multiple facets that refract the major issues – independence, escape, transcendence, mortality, consumerism – in a variety of ways. Peters’ Dahmer is mercurial, bumptiously charming, forceful though restrained, determined and inventive. 

The authorities (and, by extension, modern America) come off looking remarkably pallid, slothful, lazy, biased, and ineffective. The police, especially, seem to have almost conspired with Dahmer to make sure that more victims appeared, witnesses and families being brushed off as inconvenient as Dahmer went on his sustained crime spree frequenting gay bars where he picked up unsuspecting Black men.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s father Lionel (Richard Jenkins) is also very well done, he plays a key role in cementing Jeffrey’s place in middle America, rendering him as a nice boy from a normal part of the country who went haywire. The filmmakers make sure to emphasise the serendipitous nature of Dahmer’s psyche, and avoid make pat conclusions so that the show finishes being open-ended and suggestive. Was it education? Was it is mother’s (Penelope Ann Miller) use of prescription drugs during pregnancy? Was it the hobbies Lionel encouraged where Jeffrey cut up roadkill in his spare time?

Heaven knows, but given that serial killers continue to emerge perhaps we’re failing to learn lessons early exponents like Dahmer give us for OUR education. Given this gap perhaps Dahmer should be talked about more. Perhaps it is being talked about but I don’t inhabit those parts of the web, and in any case there’s always something on OTT to fill in for what’s just been trending.